I’m assuming I needn’t tell anyone about either the current NSA scandal or Edward Snowden’s role in it. This entry is not so much about what Snowden revealed to the press as about how those revelations were received, especially by those usually thought of as liberals or progressives.
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I said I needn’t tell anyone likely to be reading this about who Edward Snowden is or what the NSA is … Wait! Perhaps I should take that back. What do you know about the NSA? How does it differ from the NSC? When was it established? What is its mission? What are its legal constraints? Who leads it? To whom does it report?
Really, I’m formally well educated (earned Ph.D. from a prestigious research university), and since my retirement in 2009 I’ve been spending a lot of time catching up on “civics” and “current events,” so to speak. I’ve known for some time about the official distinctions among the CIA, NSA, NSC, etc. — at least on a “primer” level. But since this particular scandal broke, I’ve had to do a lot of digging and studying to catch up.
President Obama was asked once at a press conference why he hadn’t yet stated a position on some still breaking story. He responded that, being the president, he liked to make sure he knew what he was talking about before he stated his position. Whatever else I might approve or disapprove about Barack Obama’s presidency, that particular principle I wholeheartedly endorse: Research; consult; reflect; take a deep breath while counting to at least 10; and then speak.
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All of which leads to the focus here: the disappointing knee-jerk responses of liberals to Snowden’s whistleblowing. On the one hand these responses have included calling Snowden a “traitor,” without consideration (or even knowledge) of what he actually revealed. On the other hand they have ignored the REAL betrayal here: Why are we American citizens, within the U.S., being spied on? Why is this spying being “privatized” to companies with a “revolving door” relationship with the Pentagon and the federal government? Why (as they just admitted) is the NSA — supposedly limited to foreign intelligence — tapping voice conversations of U.S. citizens, within the borders of the U.S., without a warrant?
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I read this post on Truthout, though as I recall it might have been reprinted from elsewhere:
Clarity From Edward Snowden and Murky Response From Progressive Leaders in Congress
Saturday, 15 June 2013 11:55 By Norman Solomon, Norman Solomon’s Blog | Op-Ed
Here’s my initial response to the post, plus some subsequent back-and-forth. I hope you’ll read the post and join the discussion:
The fundamental problem is that liberals and progressives in general are damaging, not just their own credibility, but also the foundations of our democracy – not deliberately but through their tepid and, at times, embarrassingly superficial response.
Sure, I agree that “Occupy” is important. However, in this context Occupy is “something shiny over there.” I would add MSNBC. How often and how extensively has that supposedly left of center network covered either this or the closely related Bradley Manning issue? Important but, again, potentially distracting.
We need to emphasize the *combination* rather than one or another of its constituent parts. The grassroots (represented here by Occupy) haven’t stood up. The media (represented here by MSNBC) haven’t stood up. And elected leaders (represented here by Congress) haven’t stood up.
I agree with Solomon that Congress is crucial. But Congress can be pushed by the grassroots and the media. The *parts* of the liberal/progressive community should be spotlighted discretely, for sure. But always in the context of the *overall* failure, failure of the whole that’s greater than the sum of those parts.
Walt Kelly’s Pogo says, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” The enemy is “them” as well, to be sure! But in many, many ways “us” above all. Not one or another division of “us,” but all of us.
I cannot agree with your equating MSNBC, a corporate media channel featuring talking heads who shill for the corporate controlled Democratic Party, wirh Occupy, an anti-corporate grassroots movement. The anti-corporate media, such as Truthout, Firedoglake, Counterpunch, Alternet, Truthdig and others have stood up for Occupy as well as for Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Last week some of the anchors on ultra conservative Fox News, most notably Shepherd Smith and Judge Napolitano, were defending Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, while so-called porogressives like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC were putting as much distance between themselves and Snowden and Greenwald as possible.. I do agree with your overall point. In its insistence in defending neo-liberal Obama and the Democrats, liberals and progressives have discredited themselves and their movement. Too many of them have become police state liberals.
I realize my argument was fuzzy and confused. Basically, though, I was envisioning sort of “four estates” plus spontaneous ad hoc opposition. If the four estates function as they should, they’ll put a check on each other and matters will stay in reasonable balance. If they don’t — and we’re lucky — ad hoc opposition will coalesce and move the system back toward positive stability.
I intended that MSNBC be seen, not individually, but as just one example of the failure of the fourth estate; and Occupy as an example of ad hoc outside-the-system attempts to restore justice and balance.
As you note, however, MSNBC is also part of the Wall Street/Corporate power structure. That’s where the metaphor disintegrates. The corporate system isn’t discrete from the four estates. Rather it’s like a cancer metastasizing throughout that system. Enough. I’m getting depressed.
Good comment. Thanks for clarifying your position. We seem to be in basic agreement.
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Having lost our copy of the 1984 movie version of George Orwell’s novel, I ordered a replacement on line. While doing so, I read that sales and inquiries (for novel and movie) had skyrocketed since Snowden’s revelations and NSA’s subsequent admissions of guilt. (I’m not a lawyer, so let me restrict that to moral and ethical and “spirit of the Constitution” guilt. Constitutionality is yet to be determined.)
My colleague Chuck Vedder and I team-taught a winter term course on this matter in … wait for it! … 1984. Chuck is a sociologist, and, at the time, I wan an English professor. One of the works we taught was 1984 (both novel and movie, as I recall – though that was a long time ago and I could be wrong). Obvious choice, naturally, but nonetheless a good one, I think.
I recommend that every thoughtful, conscientious American read the novel and/or watch the 1984 John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton version of the movie. I’ve read that a re-make is in the works. I think that’s both appropriate and inevitable. Problem is how to get Americans to recognize that, regardless of its fictional setting, 1984 is about us, now.
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- Who is Keith Alexander?
- Why do persons in the “intelligence community” call him Emperor Alexander?
- Why is he often referred to as one of the most powerful persons on the planet?
- Why have 99.99% of Americans never heard of him? (Including the craziest of wingnut conspiracy freaks!)
- Does that matter? Why or why not?